An optimality-theoretic analysis of stress in the English of native Arabic speakers

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Al-Jarrah, Rasheed S.
Trechsel, Frank R.
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The overall purpose of this study is to analyze the acquisition of English word-stress by Arabic speakers in light of advancements in Optimality Theory. It has been reported that Arab second language learners of English have difficulty in acquiring the various patterns of English word stress. According to OT, the reason for this difficulty is that although these speakers, like native speakers, have full command of the universal and violable constraints that are operative in determining where stress falls in the word, they fail to capture or induce the exact ordering of these constraints. The basic premise of OT is that each grammar is a unique way of ordering the set of universal and violable constraints that determine the actual output form of a certain linguistic feature, say word-stress in this case. In other words, whereas Arabic word-stress and English word-stress are both subject to the same set of universal and violable constraints, they differ in one respect: the ordering of these constraints. The sole task of the learner then is to capture the correct ordering that determines which syllable in each word carries main stress.This study consists of four chapters. In chapter one, we introduce the problem of the study and the basic background information for an OT analysis, the task we undertake for word stress in subsequent chapters. Chapter two reviews word-stress placement in three competing models: linear approach (Chomsky and Halle 1968), nonlinear approach (Liberman and Prince 1977; McCarthy 1979; Hayes 1980, 1982, 1991), and finally Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993; McCarthy and Prince 1993a, b). In chapter three, we introduce the set of constraints that are relevant for predicting the place of stress, not just in English and Arabic, but in all languages. Hence, these constraints are literally present in all languages, though their ranking is language-specific. Then, we develop a ranking of the set of constraints particular to Arabic and another one particular to English. In chapter four, we set out to compare the two constraint rankings in order to (1) predict stress errors in the interlanguage of native speakers of Arabic when learning English, and (2) demonstrate how, by making use of the notion of constraint demotion, those learners can make their English more native-like with respect to stress placement.This study has diverted from a standard OT analysis in at least two ways. First, we allow for some alignment constraint (namely MAIN-RIGHT) to be interpreted as a nongradient constraint. Second, we allow for constraint parameterization. NONFINAL is parameterized to account for Arabic word stress; and WSP is parameterized to account for English word stress.This study has shown that there are significant differences between Arabic and English as far as the ranking of the universal and violable constraints is concerned. Among the major differences are the following. (1) WSP is irrelevant for stress placement in Arabic. (2) Arabic requires that FOOT-BINARITY be interpreted under a moraic analysis, but English requires it to be interpreted under a syllabic analysis. (3) Arabic requires constructing metrical feet from left to right (i.e. ALL-FEET-LEFT >> ALL-FEET RIGHT), English require that it be the other way around (i.e. ALL-FEETRIGHT >> ALL-FEET-LEFT). (4) In. ploysyllabic words, whereas a final syllable that weighs two or more moras is parsed in English, only a final syllable that weighs three moras is parsed in Arabic. (5) Arabic requires that PARSEσ dominates FOOTBINARITY, but English requires the opposite ranking.